04.15.10

What Happened to Demi?

Once, she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Now, Demi Moore can be found in oddball movies like The Joneses—and tweeting as @mrskutcher.

Once, she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Now, Demi Moore can be found in oddball movies like The Joneses—and tweeting as @ mrskutcher.

Demi Moore has apparently been domesticated. It’s evident in the way she touches that sleek Cher-hair self-consciously, how she so frequently refers to Ashton Kutcher as “my husband.” It’s in her coy indignation about the media’s focus on her looks, even the girlish way she speaks to the Webcam behind Buddy Holly frames in her YouTube videos. That ball-busting $12 million woman who was the Demi Moore of the mid-1990s would eat this fey facsimile for lunch.

Now, it seems, Moore is content to channel the ferocity of those early years, the drive that launched her from a cute Fairfax High School dropout who survived a Dickensian childhood to become the highest paid woman in Hollywood, into Twitter spats with the likes of Kim Kardashian over the buxom reality-TV star’s impolitic use of the term “pimpin’.” (Sex trafficking is Moore’s cause célèbre now.) At times, Moore (like so many of her celebrity peers) appears to be groping for relevance by saving suicidal teens in Florida, shodding shoeless children, and cuddling Haitian kids.

Even Moore admits now that she seemed to lose her way. “I’m still trying to figure it all out,” she said last week.

At the Los Angeles press conference for her new comic indie drama The Joneses last week, Moore, 47, looked great. But whatever claim she has to feminism or authenticity or even Hollywood star power felt especially stale on this afternoon. She teetered into the small conference room in her sequined mini-dress and her $900 stilettos behind director Derrick Borte and co-stars Lauren Hutton, David Duchovny, and Ben Hollingsworth, flipping her mane and calling out her designers’ names as she went. It lent a puzzling air of frivolity to the endeavor. After all, the film, opening Friday, riffs on the obscenity of consumerism and the self-loathing it breeds. (Moore and Duchovny star as stealth marketers posing as a family, hired to manipulate their neighbors’ buying habits.)

Perhaps that’s why the self-serious Hutton took the floor first. “We’ve turned into consumers, more than citizens,” Hutton said, projecting that deep voice as far as the lobby. “People in my office were buying $2,000 bags. I wouldn’t be caught dead with a $2,000 bag. Ever!”

But Moore isn’t one to be overshadowed. She has her own healthy appetite for a sleek Salvatore Ferragamo clutch and, as she pointed out, there’s no shame in that. Moore nearly stepped on Hutton’s response as she leaned into the microphone with some urgency. “At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with a desire, wanting, or even having nice things,” she said. “It’s when we place that as a measure of the value of ourselves that it goes askew.”

Moore probably wouldn’t admit to stooping that low. But she has been candid about losing her way inside the Hollywood matrix, attempting to make a statement with nude magazine covers and attention-grabbing roles, alienating her audience in the process. “When I said things like, ‘I want it all,’ that wasn’t coming from a place of greed,” she told UK Elle recently, referencing her infamous 1991 Vanity Fair cover, posing nude and pregnant. “It was coming from a desire for balance. I wanted to remove the limitations that I felt were being imposed on me.”

That hubris led to a circuitous career that landed Moore in some memorable places. She got her start on General Hospital, in the 3-D drive-in horror film Parasite, played the bikini clad teen in Blame It on Rio and the big-haired bad girl in St. Elmo’s Fire. And then there was the 1990 blockbuster Ghost that opened a whole new frontier for the actress. She made the most of it.

One minute she was in military dress blues, barking at the indefatigable Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men and the next she had her head buried in Michael Douglas’ crotch in Disclosure. One year she was all buttoned-up in lace collars as Hester Prynne restraining her lust for Gary Oldman in The Scarlet Letter; the next, she was banking $12.5 million—then a Hollywood record—to take it all off in Striptease and rocking a shaved head as a Navy SEAL in G.I. Jane.

Then her marriage to Bruce Willis fell apart. Her mother died. She did one last film, a romantic drama Passion of Mind that proved once and for all that her days opening a blockbuster were over. She left for Idaho with her girls, then aged 5-11.

There was a moment in 2003 when it looked as if Moore might make it back “ into the mix” as she once put it. She and her killer bod emerged from Idaho, surfacing in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and draped around Mr. Kutcher. She landed a couple of good roles as an alcoholic in Emilio Estevez’s Bobby in 2006 and as the brittle ‘60s-era diamond executive in 2008’s Flawless. Moore was keen on showing her softer side. “I'd like to do something more vulnerable,” she told The Guardian in 2007. “But I suppose if I really want it, I'll have to go hunt it down myself.”

She starred in the indie drama Happy Tears, opposite Parker Posey and Rip Torn. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009, was nominated for that festival’s Golden Bear, and faded into oblivion. Around the same time, she joined Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, and Ron Perlman on the long-gestating sci-fi action film Bunraku, set to open this year. Next, she’ll be Miley Cyrus’ mother in the remake of the French hit LOL: Laughing Out Loud.

Even Moore admits now that she seemed to lose her way. “I’m still trying to figure it all out,” she said last week. An apparently uninformed reporter asked Moore whether she—like her character in The Joneses—could ever leave everything and start over. “I kind of did,” she said. “I stepped away and am now, in a way, starting over.”

Duchovny turned to look at Moore. “I couldn’t have done that,” he said, quietly.

“You do what you have to do,” boomed Hutton to no one in particular.

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Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.